You can find her on Twitter @bethlinas
- Brandeis University, Biochemistry and Health; health, science, and society. 2004
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, MHS 2010, PhD 2014, post doc 2015
Current Job Title: Epidemiologist, Lead Public Health Specalist
What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?
I originally thought I wanted to be an MD! I took all pre-med courses and the MCAT. I had an interest in HIV throughout college and senior year I took my first intro epidemiology and stats course, which used Leon Gordis’ textbooks (he is a renowned American Epidemiologist), and that is when I realized my interests in HIV were related to populations at risk for HIV and not the medical treatment. This is when I thought about Epidemiology but it took a few years of work after undergrad before I went to grad school.
Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.
My undergrad professor of Epidemiology, Dr. Elizabeth Goodman, was a wonderful mentor in helping me understand the field of public health. When I was exploring public health as a career, I did a lot of reading about the field and reached out to experts. (I am a fan of the cold email if done well!). I read a fascinating piece in the New York times about an Epidemiologist at the New York City Health Department (where I was living after undergrad) and her experience as a deputy commissioner of health sounded fascinating. I was inspired by her work and career path. I worked hard to find her email address to learn more about her training and to tell her how much she inspired me! Dr. Bonnie Kerker was (and still is) my first public health mentor. Dr. Kerker not only emailed me back, but offered to meet with me for an informational interview. At that time, she couldn’t hire me as there was no job opening (I wasn’t expecting a job). However, about 6 months later she reached out saying she needed a special assistant- I quickly jumped at the opportunity and became a member of the Epidemiology Services Department at the NYC Department of Health. I have so many more mentors now that I have completed my degree and I couldn’t have completed my PhD without them!
Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?
Oh so many! The first challenge for me was when I wanted to apply “up” from the Masters program to the PhD program at Hopkins. About 10-12 of my classmates applied up and from what I learned (of course I don’t know for sure) I was one of the ones who was not accepted- I was initially told my interests in mobile health (digital health is what it is called now) were a bit too applied for the PhD program and there wasn’t a mentor for me. Another degree program, a Doctorate of Public Health, DrPH, was suggested but I was determined to get a PhD in Epidemiology as it is a key discipline of public health. This was a devastating experience, a super blow to my confidence, and embarrassing. However, I am one tenacious person so I stayed at Hopkins (rather than move to New Orleans to begin a PhD at Tulane) for the next year, published my masters thesis, and found a mentor whose research interests aligned with mine and reapplied to the PhD program at Hopkins the next year. I was successful the second time! I can speak about this now, but it was a dark time for me and not something I was able to talk about (and this was almost 10yrs ago!).
Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.
1. See above. 2. I wanted to pursue mobile health and it was initially difficult because I was told it wasn’t really a “public health” topic, well that’s how I perceived it, but I was able to complete my PhD and was the first student to use mobile health for my dissertation. 3. I am not in academia which was also a challenge I had to navigate as I finished grad school. I did a one year post doc as I was determining where I could use my skills and was really fortunate to be chosen for a science policy fellowship with AAAS and it became the best thing I did with my PhD! Today, I am working as an infectious disease epidemiologist AND exploring a new passion – scientific communication.
Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.
Trust and believe in yourself. No one knows you like you know yourself. Of course seek guidance and recommendations but make the best decision for yourself, not one that is “expected” of you!